Extraordinary Organizations: What Does It Take?

It’s the perennial leadership question. There is something different about some organizations, something that helps them outperform others and even exceed their own goals.

What does it take to be an extraordinarily effective organization?

In his book, Building the Bridge As You Walk On it, Robert Quinn says that these “extraordinarily positive” organizations can be called highly “productive communities.” In these communities, people find that they can contribute and excel.

What makes highly productive communities different?

During a visit to one extraordinary organization, a group of managers described the impact of several extraordinary people. These were people who had influenced the organization very significantly. They had inspired others to achieve at higher-than-dreamed levels.

“So what do they do?” the researcher asked. Quinn says that there was a long silence. Finally one director said, “That’s the wrong question.”

I like that. To ask first about what they do is to ask the wrong question. That question points us to look for behaviors, techniques, practices, and habits. It’s the dream of everyone concerned about leadership. “Tell me what I need to do!” We want the three-point short-list, the seven-part formula, the 87 irrefutable keys to successful leadership, the “formula” that we can apply. If we could only find out what these extraordinary people do we could then capture it, teach it, and through imitation gain that same performance advantage for ourselves.

It’s Who They Are

But if the answer is not what they do, then what is it? Quinn continues the story. After the long pause the director said, “It is not what they do, because each one of them is unique in how they pull it off. It is not about what they do; it is about who they are.”

It’s not what they do.┬áIt’s who they are!

Don’t miss that point! The key to developing and sustaining positive and productive communities lies within. It’s a matter of heart and character, integrity and soul. Organizational excellence tends not to be a function of imitation, Quinn tells us. It’s a function of “origination” that begins within the hearts and minds of people who have a deep inner sense of purpose, integrity, and caring.

Productive communities are “highly nurturing places. They are places where people live by the highest of human values, extending themselves for the instrumental purpose and for one another. ”

Note the linkage between task (“instrumental purpose”) and relationship. People committed first and primarily to the task will always struggle to rise to the level of extraordinary. “Extraordinary” takes more than dedication and hard work. Extraordinary requires love for one another.

Jesus and Extraordinary Communities

This should not surprise anyone who has studied the example and teaching of Jesus. Why do more people follow Jesus than any other religious leader in human history? What was his secret of success? What was his formula? He told us what it was: Loving and serving one another.

It’s not what they do. It’s who they are!

Who are you?

(Quinn, Robert E. Building The Bridge As You Walk On It: a Guide for Leading Change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004.)

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